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The old 'acid ball' is being turned into a glowing beacon. Here's when you can see it.

New “Waypoint” on Bellingham waterfront nears completion

Purcell Painting and Coating employees coat the old "acid ball" with a layer of reflective glass beads on Friday, April 27, in Bellingham. Mutuus Studio created the design for the repurposed "acid ball" now known as "Waypoint".
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Purcell Painting and Coating employees coat the old "acid ball" with a layer of reflective glass beads on Friday, April 27, in Bellingham. Mutuus Studio created the design for the repurposed "acid ball" now known as "Waypoint".

A once-rusted hulk of the city's industrial past — known as the old "acid ball" — is nearing its transformation into public art for what will be Bellingham's newest park, which is expected to open on the waterfront this summer.

On Friday, crews from Seattle-based Purcell Painting and Coatings applied a clear coat that included glass beads to the steel orb, which stands 40 feet tall with the 8-foot legs that support it.

The work has removed rust and deepened the ball's color.

Purcell workers used a fertilizer hand crank and a leaf blower to apply the glass beads to the ball. On Friday afternoon, with sunlight shining directly on it, its top had a subtle shimmer to it, like glass bits in sand or a light sheen of frost.

"It has this beautiful phenomena of reflection and the way in which the light kind of works and bounces off the ball," said Kristen Becker, co-owner of Mutuus Studio in Seattle.

The luminescent beads have been used to help light up airport runways and roads.

Shine a light directly on the ball, which is named "Waypoint," and it will reflect the light back to you. Think of what happens when your car's headlights hit highway striping at night, explained Saul Becker, co-owner of Mutuus Studio.

Mutuus Studio created the minimalist concept, taking glass beads usually reserved for industrial projects as part of the effort to preserve the ball's industrial heritage.

"It was clear when we read the proposal that the city loved the acid ball," Saul Becker said.

He added: "Nobody's ever used this material like this."

The idea behind the $130,000 project is to turn the ball, actually an acid accumulator, into a glowing beacon at night. LED lighting also will be installed to help illuminate the ball.

The city’s Percent for the Arts is paying for the artwork. The program allocates 1 percent of the budget from the city’s largest projects to incorporate artwork.

The ball, which is circa 1938, is a remnant of the closed Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper mill on the Bellingham waterfront. The tank stored acid that helped break down wood chips at the mill.

It weighs more than 400,000 pounds.

As public art, the ball will be the focal point for the new Waypoint Park.

The park's progress can be seen from Central Pier, which is part of the park and already open to the public. The pier is in front of the Granary Building.

Waypoint Park will cost just over $2 million to build.

The money to pay for it will come from a Washington State Department of Commerce Brownfield Grant, real estate taxes, park impact fees and Greenways III, a property tax levy voters approved in 2006 to pay for parks and other green spaces.

"This park has been many years in the making. The landscaping, beach, pathways and play area will provide park users a unique experience on Bellingham Bay," said Gina Austin, project engineer for the City of Bellingham.

"Native plants and new near-shore habitat will also provide a natural space for fish and wildlife," Austin said. "This new space is sure to become a very popular place."

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea
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